The French film journal Positif was founded in 1952 in Lyon, less than a year after its great rival Cahiers du Cinéma first appeared in Paris. It was the baby of a group of young film buffs, led by Bernard Chardère, a lit student who went on to become the curator of the Institut Lumière. His “petite revue” quickly grew and moved to Paris in 1954; Chardère remained at the helm until 1959. If the magazine has remained less well known than Cahiers—which rapidly became a forum for future New Wave directors Truffaut, Rivette, Rohmer, and Godard—it’s not because of the quality of the texts published, but possibly because Positif produced no filmmakers of its own to enhance its profile.
Contributors have been on the whole left-leaning, often poets and novelists, many with ties to Surrealism. Concomitantly, the magazine has paid rapt attention to horror and fantasy films and animated works. Positif never embraced the nouvelle vague as a package; its affinities were for the so-called Left Bank filmmakers (Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, Chris Marker), while Godard remained a blind spot. House auteurs from our side of the pond have included Robert Aldrich, Joe Losey, Chuck Jones, John Huston, Jerry Schatzberg, and yes, Jerry Lewis. The answer to the sempiternal question “What do the French see in Lewis?” may be apparent on the Gramercy screen when The Errand Boy (1961) and The Ladies’ Man (1961), two films from his most creative period, are screened December 28 (Lewis will be present for the latter).
This 50-film series contains a few relative rarities—John Boorman’s Arthurian legend Excalibur (1981), Losey’s great anti-capital-punishment thriller Time Without Pity (1957), Orson Welles’s delightful homage to forgery and illusionism F for Fake (1974), and Jerzy Skolimowski’s bizarre sex comedy Deep End (1970). Nonetheless, the bulk of the show is a tad disappointing—all good selections but mainly standard-issue repertory classics. Over the years, Positif has championed some fascinating directors whose work we hardly ever get to see—Lino Brocka, Pupi Avati, Vittorio Cottafavi, and Luigi Comencini, to name but a few. None made the cut; do we have to wait another 50 years for these guys?